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The Rats Part 2
on 19 June 2004
Following some eclectic journeying through the realms of the supernatural (The Survivor), fantasy (Fluke) and pulp thriller (The Spear), James Herbert returns to the 'unnatural disaster' format of his first two novels with this direct sequel to The Rats.
The action shifts out of London, and focuses on a new lair of mutant rats situated in Epping Forest. In true 'Jaws' fashion, the local authorities initially refuse to believe in any rat infestation until the spiralling number of deaths means they have no choice but to call in Ratkill and the army in an effort to kill off the rats for good.
While the events of the first novel are referred to, we get a new 'hero' this time - Ratkill employee Lucas Pender, though unimaginatively his back story is identical to the lead of Herbert's last novel The Spear (bereaved lead character who lost their loved one to the threat they now face, leading to an additional personal grudge whilest freeing them up for some love interest). In fact the characterisation here is the weakest I've yet seen in a Herbert novel, with most of the supporting cast existing as little more than names. The obligatory love interest is also very unconvincing.
Lair is reasonably enjoyable, with some gruesome deaths and frantic action scenes, but aside from a little development of the rats hierarchy there's nothing here that's better - or crucially, different - from anything in the first novel. The third time around Herbert's 'unnatural disaster' style is looking a little formulaic - lead characters gradual uncovering of events punctuated by episodes of violence perpetrated on characters created solely to die - and the open ending makes this novel seem like little more than a delaying tactic for the third novel in the trilogy.
Some exciting set-pieces make this worth reading for fans of The Rats, but ultimately Lair adds nothing new to the experience - just more of the same.